Transitional power-sharing in Libya: what use are lessons from other countries?

This blog post was written by Canan Gündüz

The recent announcement of the Libyan National Transitional Council’s 24-minister cabinet reveals a complex power-balance in the interim government between the country’s regions; those who fought during the anti-Gaddafi insurgency; as well as financial interests.

Over the coming months, the new cabinet has set itself the urgent tasks of:

  1. Providing ‘security, stability and restoration of normal life
  2. Preparing and holding elections as an important milestone
  3. Drafting a new constitution.

Recent experience in the DRC and Zimbabwe provides a grim reminder that elections can also be a flashpoint for violence; and that, in addition to benefits, power-sharing in transitional contexts also holds clear risks. Indeed shortly after the announcement of the new cabinet, Libyan Berbers went on the street to protest their exclusion from the government; and analysts put into question Prime Minister el-Keib’s claim that ‘all of Libya is represented’. Nepal’s lengthy peace process further illustrates that constitutions are rarely written in a rush, slowed down by numerous difficulties and deadlocks encountered on the way. The question therefore is:

What – if anything – can Libya, and the international community supporting its transition, learn from the experience of other countries that put power-sharing arrangements in place in the immediate aftermath of armed conflict?

In a recent expert and policymaker roundtable on peace mediation, power-sharing and transitional justice, Dr. Katia Papagianni from the HD Centre pointed out several practical lessons, adapted below. In important ways, what Libya is experiencing may be unlike other war-to-peace transitions. Yet outside supporters would do well to take note of some key points, and at least ask whether and how they are relevant for Libya over the coming months:

  1. Power-sharing arrangements may cement the division of power between armed actors, at the exclusion of others. Therefore consider including non-combatants, and strengthening their role in the power-sharing arrangements (e.g. unarmed political groups, civil society groups or religious leaders, for example through minor ministries).
  2. Power-sharing arrangements can become ‘cozy set-ups’ for those on the inside, creating incentives to delay or boycott changes to the status quo. Therefore define a clear ‘end point’, and include clearly defined milestones for a transition.
  3. Parties involved in a power-sharing arrangement may renege on commitments made earlier (e.g., holding elections, or ensuring accountability for rights abuses). Therefore support strong implementation mechanisms for commitments made, for example investigations into abuses.
  4. Power-sharing arrangements may be exclusive and lack balanced representation. Therefore consider supporting other transitional institutions outside government to be as inclusive and functional as possible (i.e. electoral commissions, truth and reconciliation commissions, the justice system etc.).
  5. Disagreements, deadlock and walk-outs are common in power-sharing arrangements. Therefore ensure that mediation and facilitation support are available beyond the establishment of a power-sharing set-up, to help resolve disagreements and conflicts that may arise in their day-to-day functioning.
  6. Technical and political obstacles, as well as delays, to successful elections can add to existing conflict or generate fresh tensions in turn. Therefore support the speedy preparation and holding of elections to facilitate the transition out of a power-sharing set-up.
  7. Groups who feel they have been excluded, or that their interests are not adequately represented in the power-sharing government, may threaten the transition, even with violence. Therefore find ways to facilitate dialogue between a power-sharing government and opposition parties or groups.

Not all, or even most, of these points may apply to the transition in Libya. But at a minimum, it behoves the international community to ask if they do.

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